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Fixes for thin shots and topping

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Chicken Wing

Many golfers fight “thin” shots, “skulled” shots and “topped” shots at some point — even the best golfers in the world.

All of these shots occur when the face of the club doesn’t “get down” to the bottom of the ball. There are various degrees of this of course, which is why we have three different names. But for clarity in this article, I’m going to call them all “thin shots.”

Thin shots often occur as a reaction to a previous “fat” shot. In technical terms, they happen because of a shortened radius of the left arm and club extension into impact.

There are plenty of reasons why golfers hit thin shots. A common reason (pictured above) is “the chicken wing,” or that golfers raise their “swing center.” If you watch an elite level player swing, you’ll notice that their left arm reaches a fully extended position into impact (Note: Lee Westwood is an exception). Many amateurs shorten their left arm to avoid hitting the ground, a make-up move that is often needed because of a golfer’s too steep plane or angle of attack.

Another common cause of thin shots is a very flat swing, which is characterized by the arms swinging too much around. Since the arms are swinging so much around, they cannot swing down to hit the bottom of the ball. Also, a path that is too much from the inside will cause the club to bottom out too soon and force golfers to RAISE their hands and handle of the golf club into impact.

Flat Swingtopping high hands from the inside

 A swing that is too flat (left) and a swing that approaches the ball too much from the inside. These are both causes of thin shots. 

But the most frequent cause of thin shots that I see, especially for better players, is what I call a “late” hit.

Late hits cause more thin shots than any of the moves above. If any part of the upper body moves “out” (pictured below) on the downswing before the arms come down or are dropped onto a lower plane, the golfer will rarely get to the bottom of the golf ball. Very often, the reaction to getting ahead is to try to throw the club at the ball at the very last second in a last ditch effort to get the arms extended. At that point some well-meaning, but not always well-informed friend will tell the golfer,  “You’re casting!”

topping way ahead of it

It is my belief that a golfer must get their arms down, period. That’s why many golfers struggle when they are given advice to “get off the right side” or “get through the ball.” It is often misunderstood, because the interpretation of those tips is to move the body ahead in the transition, which puts them into the LATE position I described. Many golfers simply haven’t been taught that they have to drop their arms, which brings the golf club with them as they try to “get through” the ball.

I teach many new players and many mid-to-high handicap players to “get their arms down first.” A great drill to help golfers learn this is to have them put their feet together and swing, which allow them to feel the arms and club coming up and down. Now at some point, learning to get the arms down will lead to fat shots and some hooked shots. When that happens, golfers need to start working on adding some body turn through the ball, which I will cover in a future article. But not until they learn to swing the arms!

I have seen more good results from this progression — getting the arms down and then adding turn — than any other. Certainly the full golf swing is a combination of the vertical (the arms and club) and the horizontal (the body rotating), but if you are hitting a lot of “late” thin shots, start thinking about an earlier release and getting the club down sooner.

Often, the way to detect your own fault here is the direction of the topped shot. A thin shot that starts left of the target is late one, and a thin shot that starts to the right is due to a path that comes too much from the inside, which forces the lifting of the hands.

I know this change in thinking will help many get to the bottom of the golf ball more often.

One final note: Check your posture. Another leading cause of thin shots is a posture that is too bent over, which can cause golfers to “bail out” at impact. Make sure you’re standing tall so that your arms have room to swing.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

25 Comments

25 Comments

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    Feb 5, 2019 at 8:20 am

    So you don’t need to contribute the image authors manually

  2. ToMaHaWK

    Jul 8, 2017 at 10:20 am

    if you are hitting a lot of “late” thin shots, start thinking about an earlier release and getting the club down sooner. <—- These Tip Fix Thin Shot For Me!

  3. ToMaHaWK

    Jul 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Thank you for sharing these Tips, Very Helpful

    I have suffer from thin shot for along time and i got injured (left elbow – Backhand) because of “Late Hit”

    I find many way to fix it but I can’t, I had consulted with Professional but can’t fix my problem. Until I found your article!

    Now I have fun with golf again! Thank you so much!

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  16. doej

    Apr 20, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    This is one of the best tips I’ve heard in a while. As 4cap, my miss is that I get late, get stuck, etc…

    I feel like my arms are always trailing.

    Thanks Dennis.

  17. leftright

    Apr 16, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    If you top the ball a lot..quit. You have no talent and should take up something else. You are holding up the golf course.

    • nobogeyshere

      Apr 17, 2014 at 6:06 am

      @leftright – great attitude. This is a site for people to learn. People like you are the entire issue with the world.

      By the way, how long have you been on tour?

      • leftright

        Apr 17, 2014 at 11:24 am

        It is not about wanting to play, it is about can you play. Too many people take up the golf course, playing when they should not be playing because they have money, know someone and in turn we have 5-6 hour rounds. If someone has little or no talent for the game then not unless they want to play later afternoons or by themselves or “with their wives” then don’t show up on Saturday morning with true golfers. Yes, this is the issue with the world and probably why you are some progressive/liberal ideologue that think everyone deserves everything, no matter what. If that guy who tops the ball frequently can play Saturday morning and not hold up play (which he cannot) then more power to him…but he has not earned the priviledge (it is not a right like you liberals think)to tee it up at those time no more than I deserve to tee it up in the US Amateur at my ripe age. Golf for the masses may sound good but it undermines the integrity of the game which is being destroyed by people like your guy Obama playing and paralyzing golf courses while paralyzing America in the process.

        • lco21

          Apr 17, 2014 at 11:33 am

          If it bugs you that much, join a private club and stop playing on public courses.

        • Double Mocha Man

          Apr 18, 2014 at 7:10 pm

          RightRight… you almost had me until you got to the part where you rant on a sitting president. Some of your points were mildly valid but you spoiled it by going all political.

  18. Anne

    Mar 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    This is what you taught me to do @Nemacolin! So helpful… Thanks

  19. Dennis Clark

    Mar 21, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    something easy until you get the sequence…7/8 iron. The thing to do is gradually widen your stance after you feeel the arms swinging down and gradually add some turn through

  20. Cody

    Mar 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Do you recommend a certain club when practicing the feet-together drill?

    • michael

      Mar 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      as long as its a covert the drill will work just fine.

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Clement: Weight shift in the golf swing – How Ben Hogan did it

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Ben Hogan developed his swing around both how to get to the target more consistently and his anatomy. Get the facts from Wisdom in Golf on how the human machine does its thing without having to micro-manage your body parts!

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Clement: This is the perfect right elbow move in the downswing

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When it comes to getting the right move of the right or trail elbow in the golf swing right in the downswing, Wisdom in Golf has you covered! See the proper sequence of events in the golf swing like Joaquin Niemann, Justin Thomas, and Jon Rahm!

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Clark: Beware of trying random swing suggestions!

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There is value in every instruction book; it just depends who is reading it- John Jacobs.

Every swing tip you read or see or listen to, very likely has merit.  Very few are wrong, and none are necessarily right.  There is value in every one and there is harm in every one.  Knowing which ones or which parts of them are relevant can be your key to a more effective golf swing.

Let’s take an  example.  “Shallowing out” your transition, or flattening your down swing plane is great advice.  Why? Because the vast majority of golfers are far too steep in transition (golf club pointed at the ground starting the downswing).  But let’s say you happen to be in the minority; let’s say you are too flat, or “under the plane” coming down down.  Being unaware of your current swing position, if you were to employ the tip that advised “flattening”, you are, in all likelihood now, too flat and you may well hit a foot behind the golf ball.

Another piece of advice we see quite often is “be sure to get sufficient width” in your swing in order to create more power.  I have seen this tip misunderstood all to often.  Let’s say your swing is already too wide; you are pushing the golf club well away from your body and excessively shifting your center to your rear foot in order to create the coveted “width”.  If you are not aware of your current move, and you ADD width, you are now likely so far off the golf ball, you have little to no chance to get back to it. Without ample swing lag and a very late hit, you might strike the ground well behind the ball or miss it altogether.

More…Pronate, supinate, release the club…many have come to me with excessive hand action (often far too early) and almost always at the cost of using too little body motion.  What if you are “handsy” right now and someone suggested this action.  Well…you guessed it.  You won’t even get the ball airborne, and you can yell “fore left” upon impact.

I am using these examples (among many) to make a point:  as a teacher I totally agree that these examples can be quite effective for some.  They can also be quite disastrous for others! Whether it be a change in tempo, path, plane, weight distribution or whatever-all these things need to be executed cautiously with the context of your own golf swing.

What to do?  You can make any change you think will help, just be sure you get the big picture. You may consider a thorough video and/or trackman analysis to get an idea what your swing is doing right now, what your individual tendencies are and decide if certain suggestions are in the right context.  The key to real improvement lies in knowing (in detail) your habits, and knowing how the entire motion works as one whole dynamic.  

There is no one grip, but there is a grip for everyone.  There is no one ball position but there is a ball position for everyone.  There is no one posture, or alignment, or backswing or downswing for everyone, but there is one position which fits your swing, your plane, etc.  The great Ben Hogan reminded all of us “the secret is on the dirt”. His advice was quite clear-break the code, find your own best way, the way that works-to do that you need to know where you are right now. After all is said and done the only thing that matters is impact!  The club face, the angle of attack, the true path of the swing and center of face contact are the only things to which the golf ball responds.  We all must find our own way of getting there.

Golf is the greatest game in the world with so many wonderful folks.  Unfortunately it is also the only game with more teachers than players.  Advice is all around; the internet, the magazines, the Golf Channel, your buddies, husband, wife…every one of them means well and, as I’ve said, are likely helpful.  However, great harm can be done if you are not discerning enough to know helpful vs. hurtful.

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